It’s a very modern magic trick: create an SXSW talk from scratch, using generative AI. That’s what Whurley did this year in Austin.
It took Whurley – a staple of the Austin tech scene – nine weeks to create and prepare a keynote for SXSW 2018, where he would debut Strangeworks, a quantum computing startup that he co-founded and runs. Five years later, generative AI would complete the task in just a few hours.
And it was actually pretty good. The 45-minute speech was comprehensive, interesting and had a whirlwind tone. There was one swear word (fuck) and a few jokes (including two lawyers) that made the audience laugh. It seemed that the trickiest part, at least while on stage, was reading the script that his tablet’s AI had provided. (Whurley is known for his freewheeling style on the SXSW stage, where he’s a regular.)
The kicker? He waited until the end to deliver the punch line.
“Everything today, from the slides to the speech I’m reading right now, was created by generative AI,” he said onstage before delving into the hows and whys of it all. A buzz of whispers, wows and chuckles spread through the room filled with hundreds of SXSW attendees.
Strangeworks may be the first startup to leverage generative AI for all of its on- and off-stage content at SXSW. And while it’s a new and fun demonstration, the experiment also illustrates the flexibility of AI tools and its growing popularity.
Why bother? Exposure and education, Whurley told londonbusinessblog.com this week after the event.
“We are on the verge of the greatest period of technological advancement in human history. I feel like people are not just not ready for this, they’re not even aware it’s happening. I wanted to put it in the spotlight,” he said. “We will see more changes in the next 10 years than in the last 100 years. People can deny all they want, but the technological change that is about to happen cannot be stopped. The convergence of quantum computing and AI will be one step function, if not several step functions, for scientific discovery and progress.”
The experiment began as many do – with a limited scope. Whurley used generative AI in October 2022 to write a description for his SXSW talk titled “Quantum AI: Why Your Future Depends on Quantum Computing and Artificial Intelligence.” And no, he didn’t tell the SXSW organizers.
“This all started with a prompt,” he said while standing on stage. “I said write an 800 word South by Southwest summary. Here’s the concept, here’s a title I gave it and a few points and everything you saw on the South by Southwest website was created by ChatGPT. And I submitted it.”
ChatGPT is the image and text understanding AI model powered by GPT 3.5 and developed by OpenAI. A new version of the underlying engine, GPT-4, was released on March 14.
His prompt was:
Write an 800-word summary for a SXSW keynote for a session called “QuantumAI: Why Your Future Depends on the Convergence of Quantum Computing & Artificial Intelligence,” in which the speaker discusses advancements in quantum computing and artificial intelligence, the challenges facing our species faces, and the inevitable convergence that could lead to a quantum superintelligence that will change our world forever.
A few days before the SXSW session, Whurley decided to move on. He asked the AI to use the summary to create a sketch of what the presentation might look like. After a few tweaks (or “reprompting” as he calls it), the sketch lived up to his approval.
This is great, I need to come up with enough slides to cover this topic for an hour. Can you indicate what a possible format would be for a one-hour discussion on this subject?
Whurley shared it with his team at Strangeworks and together they decided to go all in. “At that point I told them the plan was to start with whatever was needed for the keynote tomorrow at 11:30 a.m.,” he told londonbusinessblog.com.
Strangeworks’ creative team, Casey Barthels, Nicole Majeske, and Ada Onyiuke, used Midjourney, an AI generative art tool, to create the slides and graphics for the presentation. And then they raised the bar again by having Midjourney do the story and graphics in a seven-page print publication featuring the Strangeworks mascot, Schrody Cat. The publication was distributed to those present.
“And then, the night before last, I thought, if I was going to do a sketch, the synopsis, and all the slides, why can’t we just put words in my mouth?” he said. Whurley took all of his previous prompts and entered them into GPT-4, which was released on Tuesday.
In other words, what would become the final script, graphics, and slides were created on the morning of the keynote. And they cut it shut. “As we pulled into the hotel at nearly 11 a.m. sharp, I took the final draft of the script and cut and pasted it into the teleprompter software I downloaded to my iPad,” he wrote to londonbusinessblog.com in a post-event text.
“It’s definitely the biggest risk I’ve ever taken at SXSW,” he said.
The generative AI was also used to create Whurley’s personal website, which debuted Wednesday, featuring hundreds of blogs in Whurley’s voice. He collaborated with Big Human contributor David Hudson on the blogging project.
Those blogs have been removed to make way for another project that started on Thursday. Strangeworks’ CEO ran the prompt through ChatGPT again, this time requesting that the website and blogs be published in 10 languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Italian, and Arabic.
Whurley said the response has been overwhelmingly positive. He noted that a few anti-AI/technology people have made snide remarks or veiled threats via social media, but “again, the detractors are few and far between.”